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That Time Pepsi Promised to Give Away a Harrier Jet

That Time Pepsi Promised to Give Away a Harrier Jet

That Time Pepsi Promised to Give Away a Harrier
Jet Back in the halcyon days of 1995, Pepsi launched
their aptly titled “Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff” campaign that allowed customers to earn points
on every Pepsi product they bought and then exchange them for things like Pepsi branded
t-shirts and hats. The promotion was a roaring success and resulted
in nothing of note happening whatsoever… unless of course you count the guy who sued
them because they refused to exchange 7,000,000 Pepsi points for a Harrier Jet. The man in question was John Leonard and in
the later months of 1995 he turned on his TV and saw this ad announcing the Pepsi Stuff
promotion. For those who aren’t interested in watching
the advertisement, it essentially shows a teen on his way to school, highlighting items
one can buy with Pepsi points, such as a Pepsi T-shirt for 75 points, a leather jacket for
1450 points, etc. The book The Law of Marketing, by Lynda J.
Oswald, describes what happens next in exquisite detail: The scene then shifts to three young boys
sitting in front of a high school building. The boy in the middle is intent on his Pepsi
Stuff Catalog, while the boys on either side are each drinking Pepsi. The three boys gaze in awe at an object rushing
overhead, as the military march builds to a crescendo. The Harrier Jet is not yet visible, but the
observer senses the presence of a mighty plane as the extreme winds generated by its flight
create a paper maelstrom in a classroom devoted to an otherwise dull physics lesson. Finally, the Harrier Jet swings into view
and lands by the side of the school building, next to a bicycle rack. Several students run for cover, and the velocity
of the wind strips one hapless faculty member down to his underwear. While the faculty member is being deprived
of his dignity, the voice-over announces: “Now the more Pepsi you drink, the more
great stuff you’re gonna get.” The following words then appear: “HARRIER
FIGHTER 7,000,000 PEPSI POINTS.” Upon seeing the commercial, Leonard, a 21
year old business student, did a little research and came to a startling conclusion- the Pepsi
Harrier giveaway was actually an amazing deal at only 7,000,000 points. You see, in 1995, the value of a single Harrier
Jet was about $33 million, give or take a few million depending on whose estimates you
want to use. This meant that even if every 2 litre bottle
of Pepsi only awarded a single point (in reality many bottles and cans offered more depending
on where they were purchased), the Harrier would still only cost about $7 million in
real money. To confirm there were no loopholes here, Leonard
got his hands on a Pepsi Stuff prize catalogue. While no Harriet Jet was listed there, he
did notice it stated in the small print that if a person already had 15 Pepsi Points, they
could purchase an unlimited number of additional points towards any item they wanted for 10
cents apiece. This meant Leonard could actually effectively
purchase the Harrier for a mere $700,000, and wouldn’t need to pre-purchase millions
of dollars of Pepsi products to do it, making the whole business venture significantly less
risky from a financial standpoint. And so it was that on March 27th of the following
year, Leonard sent 15 Pepsi Points, an order form with the words “1 Harrier Jet” written
in the item description, and a cheque for $700,008.50 ($699,998.50 for the remaining
6,999,985 points and $10 for shipping and handling) to the required address and waited. Pepsi, upon receiving the order, sent the
cheque back with a letter explaining that the Harrier Jet was “not part of the offer”,
nor was it included in the prize catalogue, and that its inclusion in the advertisement
was merely intended as “fanciful” addition to make the ad more entertaining. The letter also included a bunch of coupons
to apologise for “any misunderstanding or confusion”. Of course, Leonard was dead serious, in the
previous year having managed to convince five unnamed investors to back his little venture. When later asked by the news about why he
was so intent on getting a Harrier Jet, Leonard explained that as a member of the so-called
“Pepsi generation” the company was advertising to, the “notion of owning a Harrier Jet
appealed to him enormously”. Of course, with investors involved, it’s
far more likely the group was simply looking for a large out of court settlement. Whatever the case, when Leonard received the
response from Pepsi, his lawyer responded in turn on May 14, 1996: Your letter of May 7, 1996 is totally unacceptable. We have reviewed the video tape of the Pepsi
Stuff commercial… and it clearly offers the new Harrier jet for 7,000,000 Pepsi points. Our client followed your rules explicitly… This is a formal demand that you honor your
commitment and make immediate arrangements to transfer the new Harrier jet to our client. If we do not receive transfer instructions
within ten (10) business days of the date of this letter you will leave us no choice
but to file an appropriate action against Pepsi. Oddly, rather than reply themselves this time,
Pepsi forwarded the letter to the ad company responsible for the commercial, who replied
to Leonard stating that the offer “was clearly a joke”, adding that they found it hard
to believe anyone had actually taken it seriously. However, perhaps at least being a little nervous
over the issue, in order to avoid copycat lawsuits, Pepsi promptly changed the price
of the jet in the ad from 7,000,000 Pepsi Points to 700,000,000. But they still had to deal with Leonard, who
sued Pepsi for fraud, breach of contract and deceptive advertising. The case limped through the courts for three
years. While the court of public opinion was strongly
on the side of Leonard and his investors- after all, the commercial clearly stated that
if you acquired seven million Pepsi points, you could exchange them for a Harrier jet-
the court that actually had power to issue a ruling was not. The issue was finally settled in 1999 with
the judge concluding that “no objective person could reasonably have concluded that
the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier Jet”. It is notable that Leonard’s legal team
attempted to argue that no judge could accurately determine whether the target audience of the
commercial, the ‘Pepsi Generation’, would or would not conclude that the commercial
was really offering a jet. Specifically noting, “a federal judge [is]
incapable of deciding on the matter, and that instead the decision had to be made by a jury
consisting of members of the ‘Pepsi Generation’ to whom the advertisement would allegedly
constitute an offer.” In any event, in regards to the accusation
of fraud, this too was thrown out as commercials aren’t considered legally binding offers
under the Restatement (Second) of Contracts treatise, which notes: Advertisements of goods by display, sign,
handbill, newspaper, radio or television are not ordinarily intended or understood as offers
to sell. The same is true of catalogues, price lists
and circulars, even though the terms of suggested bargains may be stated in some detail. It is of course possible to make an offer
by an advertisement directed to the general public, but there must ordinarily be some
language of commitment or some invitation to take action without further communication. Finally, the courts ruled that not giving
Leonard the Harrier wasn’t in breach of contract as no written agreement between the
two parties involving the giving or receiving of a jet had been drafted or signed. As Arthur Linton Corbin notes in Corbin on
Contracts, “There would be no enforceable contract until [the] defendant [Pepsi Co.]
accepted the Order Form and cashed the check.” As Pepsi did neither, there was no breach
of contract. This all leaves one wondering, had the court
ruled otherwise, would Pepsi have been able to give Leonard the jet? The answer, according to Pentagon spokesman
Ken Bacon, was decidedly no. In response to Bacon’s assertions, Leonard
stated that he would take a Harrier Jet “in a form that eliminated [its] potential for
military use”. The U.S. military has in the past, for instance,
sold tanks to civilians after their weaponry was removed. In response to that, Bacon claimed that doing
the same to the jet would strip it of its ability to fly, rendering it useless. That’s not to mention that a Harrier Jet
uses a massive amount of fuel per minute of flight, varying depending on what you’re
doing at the time, and requires millions of dollars of maintenance over the course of
its lifetime, both of which make it prohibitively expensive for any but the richest of civilians
to operate. But, of course, it is likely Leonard and his
investors were never actually interested in the jet, just the potential payout if the
court ruled in their favor. Leonard attempted to appeal the court’s
decision in 2000, with the ruling ultimately upheld.

Reader Comments

  1. For more soda-related trivia watch this video that answers the question- Is Saccharin Bad For You?:

  2. While it may seem naive to believe you could get a Harrier jet with Pepsi points, I find that ruling to violate every case regarding β€œverbal contracts”. They’re inherently weak but can be binding when witnessed by unbiased observers. We see so many disclaimers in commercials today, even some apparent music requirement that we be told the person is a paid spokesperson, are an actual customer, etc. Based on that ruling, the judge asserted that advertisements aren’t legal contracts so why all the fine print we can’t even read in commercials??

  3. So a typical lazy entitled prick who was trying to rip off a company. No, he did not deserve a single penny, let alone a jet. Jokes are not "false advertising". Would anyone try to sue Red Bull over the drink not actually giving them wings?

  4. Some countries at war would actually like even the increased 700.000.000 points (approx. 70.000.000$) per harrier too…

  5. The Leonard guy will never drink the Pepsi again. Ever.

    And the Pepsi schmucks could buy one for him and finish the whole thing.

  6. Many years ago my son was drinking Mountain Dew for sundry items.
    If you do the math, it actually is cheaper to just buy a new camera or sneakers. Additionally, your teeth will be in much better condition.
    This is something I couldn't imagine…
    My dentist told me once "Only take care of the teeth you want to keep."
    Carbonated drinks and Altoids are the worst.

  7. Pepsi is a giant company. They obviously paid off the judge.
    Pepsi also did a false ad and yet refused to correct it when they got called out on it lol
    What a bunch of smug ass holes.

  8. "Which Harrier jet exactly did we offer? The "new Harrier" you claim? No. The AV-8B? No. The one seen in our "get stuff" advertising campaign? Yes, which just so happens to be a plywood and fiberglass studio model. Total cost $2568.54. If you continue to drag this ridiculous lawsuit out, we'll cash in those 7 mil points, at great financial profit to us, and deliver that over sized Revell plastic model kit, at great financial loss to you. Good luck finding a safe place to keep it. Thank you for purchasing our products. We know what you're trying to do, know it would blow up in your face, offered you a quiet and dignified way out, but you continued anyways. If you keep trying to back us into a loophole corner, we'll have no alternative but to play legal hardball. A game that'll = us richer/you with a useless, cheap and big grey lawn ornament."

  9. And literally all pepsi had to do was put fine print on the ad that said they wouldn't actually buy the jet. The guy clearly should have won.

  10. Didnt Pepsi received some battleship from the Soviet Union by selling some pepsi? They should have kept one of these battleship and give one to him as a compensation.

  11. There is a civilian who owns a Harrier, he was already a jet pilot and has $$$$. Nice plane but subsonic.

  12. Just for note: IF this was done in New Zealand, Pepsi would have gone under overnight! Our laws state with extreme prejudice false advertising of any kind, via ANY medium is highly illegal and is subject to immediate payout with fines incurred, as well as a visit from the department of fraud office paying you a kindly visit for tea and biscuits.

  13. FUCK PEPSIπŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•πŸ–•

  14. Pepsi should have lost. FALSE ADVERTISEMENT! Corporate America getting away with whatever they want again and again.

  15. Everyone thinks its easy to get a harrier even with money lol. You need a type rating for it and i doubt FAA would approve a guy with no military background to fly a harrier

  16. I think the conclusion that he wanted a court pay-out is unfounded and contra all the evidence presented in the video. Resale when the jet only cost him 700,000 would have still left hime with ~32,299,000 (subtracting 1,000 for the fact that the jet would have left the for-sale lot where it was kept, do these jets devalue like a car?). This is not the internet generation we are talking about, you can't just look things up (your audience does not readily think of this, btw), doesn't it seem more likely that a group of wealthy investors would hedge bets on a sure thing from a misleading ad-campaign then expect a convoluted and costly court process to turn out in their favor?

    I think that your conclusion is implicitly indicative of an enculturation which leads to siding with corporations who routinely ring the false alarm for victimhood when they've actually lied (as pepsi clearly did in the video) or victimised someone else (think about McDonalds serving scalding hot coffee to keep it warmer longer and the 3rd degree burns it caused an elderly woman's genitals and the subsequent hiring of mcdonalds of counter-PR to demonise the elderly woman with life-long injuries and vindicate themselves, which, to be fair, I think you did a piece about).

    If this kid is unfairly litigious let's hope he doesn't sue you for defamation or libel πŸ˜‰

  17. That's it. No more Pepsi. Doesn't live up to there bargain and goes for the fall of YouTube advertisement.

  18. Pepsi didn't think that thru and they definitely should have had to pay that man alot of money and if this kinda stuff was ok many companies would be trying to still pull off shit like this still.if the jet was a joke what's to stop them from saying the shirts and everything else was also a joke.the fact they put a point amount on the jet is the problem I see here.

  19. So youre telling me, that the same company that owned the worlds 6th largest navy comprised of 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer from the Soviet Navy, couldnt provide a single Harrier Jump Jet?


  20. I feel like the judge gave a ruling less about what seemed obvious, and more on the fact that it seemed ludicrous for anyone to expect pepsi to own a harrier jet, and there'd be no way for them to actually compensate for that fairly outside of what they have already done, on TOP of the costs of lawsuit to boot. Were they offering, for example, a car, then that might be a case they'd have lost, but a Harrier jet?

  21. The counter-argument wasn't great I mean the "Pepsi" generation has grown up on Manga and MTV I don't think they can be objective about many things. I hate advertising campaigns we are not fucking Pepsi generation bloody trend hacking egotistically sycophants. The most annoying advert we have at the moment is to love our bodies as its the summer of love yourself. Another advert claiming to be some kind of Avatar Overlord Seer of the current Zeitgeist. It's literally the perfect reason to pick up your TV and smash it against a wall or take a hammer to it. The amount of cringe-worthy patronizing shit you put up with owning a TV. Digital Babies advertising bottled waterman man that's an aneurysm waiting to happen right there. No doubt these idiots go on holiday 5 times per year and have there Morgage paid off in full. Not to mention the latest bubble mold car that has excreted itself of the production line. Advertisement is the equivalent of some guy showing his erect penis in a restaurant on a date thinking he's going to get lucky.

  22. Contract interpretation is a question of law for the judge, so a federal judge is quite capable of making a ruling.

  23. i as a kid and part of the pepsi generation thought one could get said jet as it did not have fine print saying other wise, this whole case was bull crap, i think they paid for him to ride in a jet, but they should have bought him one. in either case coke is better and i have a friend that pepsi cause nausea for so pepsi lies and makes you vomit.

  24. And now for something completely different.
    Seems like a price listed for a particular item is a contract to provide said item for the rendering of said price.
    I drink Coca-Cola.

  25. In other words, companies can apparently put whatever they want in an advertisement and get away with it.

  26. I would say OK. And you can P/U the jet in the UK. Oh and BTW, you have a pilot's license as well as being jet qualified to operate the Harrier… There is only one person in the civilian world that is. He was a Marine pilot and has logged in over 10,000 hrs/400 landings in that jet. As well as flown (as a test pilot) F-15, F-16, F-5, A-6, F/A-18. So I would say go for it, SMART ASS.

  27. My local radio station had a contest. The winner would receive a Toy Yoda. The women who won sued, because she thought it was going to be a Toyota. She won, I believe. Edit. It was the local Hooters, not radio station.

  28. The judge fucked this one up. Who's to say what it believable or not in an offer? One of the worst decisions ever.

  29. If he had sent them points for the leather jacket in the advert they would have given him the jacket. I see no difference.

  30. 7 million in real money? Do you not know how much these products cost? I was probably like 1.50 for a 2 liter in 95

  31. That one time Leonard got Pepsi on their six! πŸ˜‰

    pun joke aside, i still believe Pepsi clearly showed a young man ( representing the new generation), in command of a Jet,
    thus creating the same kind of 'reality' as a car advertissement,
    thus being totally believeable that the Jet was, in fact, part of the possible Winning/Availlability.

    It is false advertissement unless it was written on screen that this was just an actual 'for advertissement only'.

    In this case, if they had a jury of New Generation people, i am sure they would have win. The facts that the airplane cost millions to maintenance or fuel would actually fall on pepsi to provide a working Airplane for 'an appropriate amount of time decent for a number of years'…

    What a case!!! Pepsi really must have pay the judge to get away from this…

  32. I remember in my government class I was laughing my ass off πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ the human race goofy af

  33. Why did YouTube just bring me here. That said.. Its false advertising. Because they put the points up on screen. The advert could have been done too exactly the same effect, without the points flash up, and just have the kids be like "How many points do you think you need to get that?!" You still get the joke in, the cool scene, but with that tweak its legit. You really can't claim it was ACTUALLY offered cos it wasn't. It might have been soft implied the guy got the jet via pepsi points, but its not out and out stating it like a fact.

    There absolutely should have been a payout in this case. And I feel like… if that case was brought today there probably would be. But 90s was a wild time for adverts XD

  34. Guys like that clog up the legal system. This is why legitimate legal cases take years and years. Because unscrupulous attorneys and clients pull ridiculous stunts like this. He and his investors were hoping to pin Pepsi on a technicality and get a huge payout. The judge should have fined them all for a frivolous lawsuit.

  35. You did an exceedingly poor job explaining the law on contracts as it applies to this case. You had a great opportunity to teach people about how contracts work and as you can see from the comments you totally blew it.

  36. Corporate fraud at it's greatest. No person or corporate entity should ever show anything outright like this as a potential prize because you know that someone in this country would be crazy enough to seriously try and win such a prize. In a technical sense I honestly think that a corporation as big and old as Pepsi would know better than to make such an irresponsible and dubious claim as placing that jet in that ad, as it was dishonest advertising to say the very least and while I wouldn't expect the guy to actually receive a real Harrier jump jet, I think he should've at least been able to sue Pepsi for such a stunt as that.

  37. I think Pepsi should of paid up. They offered and sold everything else in the commercial as advertised. If not pay up give the kid the company. Im dead serious. They advertised it they should pay it. That simple.

  38. What kind of retard would assume a real working piece of $35M military hardware would be offered to a civilian under any circumstances (this isn't exactly surplus ammo cans or deweaponized humvees)? At 20% of its value? Not to mention how would he accept it anyway? I'm going out on a limb here and assuming he doesn't have a fighter jet pilot's licence. Hell why not try to buy your own nuclear missile from Pepsi while you are at it? Whoever helped him in the idiocy are equally retarded/gullible as were his lawyers that were dumb enough to take the case and expecting any sort of outcome other than what actually happened. If the "Pepsi Generation" takes everything so literally and believe everything they see on TV like a bunch of autistic morons then they deserve to be ripped off.

  39. Idiots like that are why there are now disclaimers for (what should be even to mild retards) obvious things on everything. Hope after the legal fees and court costs he was left living in a garbage bag held up with a cardboard box and eating at soup kitchens for life. It was his own damned fault for obviously trying to rip off Pepsi (or anyone else).

  40. There is an american with a Harrier jet. He was a pilot and thus was allowed to have and fly the unarmed aircraft in US airspace.

  41. Surprise surprise, the courts siding with big soda. The closest he ever got to flying a harrier was in San Andreas

  42. The Harrier had lots of quirks/bugs. Many pilots lost their lives operating this bird. The F-35 is much safer but what a sickening cost. Disclosure has to happen. Use gravity energy field propulsion and silently move about. Heard stories of "Portals" placed inside buildings under CIA control. Supposedly one can walk through the portal and arrive on Mars base in about 10 minutes. One thing leads to another. Hmmm Sounds like the Fixx song! * I watched a harrier at an air show in Milwaukee in the early 70s. He took off normal but when he came back it was hovering. A few seconds later the nose dipped horribly downward (was actually facing us in the crowd). The thing dropped to the deck and a large 300 foot or so fireball rose to the sky. There was no explosion sound. only total silence when it hit the ground. The narrators yelled out and declared MARTIAL LAW. For a moment people were trying to jump the fence. This story ended very good. The pilot had ejected as the bird was dropping and the chute managed to keep him alive with only bruises. Stationed at Cherry Point I saw the wreckage of a Harrier. I was told thrust on one side stopped and it flipped upside down instantly. Pilot deceased. Just reflecting… When I saw this post on Harrier… many memories came to mind!

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